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How to Change the Distributor in Chevrolet Cars

by Contributing Writer; Updated June 12, 2017

The Chevrolet car has been a favorite in the muscle car category since the company introduced it. To replace the distributor on some models will require a jack.

Under The Hood:

 How to Change the Distributor in a Chevrolet Cavalier

Make sure the engine is cold before beginning this procedure. Remove the bolts from the cover. The cover is located on top of the engine, and will be held on by four or six such bolts. As you face the engine, look to your right. At the end of the cover, there will be a plug-in connector. Unplug this connector.

Carefully lift the cover straight up. You may have to rock it back and forth as you apply gentle upward pressure. Lay the cover upside down so the plastic distributor is facing up.

Remove the bolts holding the distributor to the cover. Gently move the distributor to the side, unplugging any wiring harnesses that you see. The coils should be in the distributor. Remove the coils from the old distributor.

Place the coils into the new distributor and plug the wiring harness back in.

Reattach the distributor to the cover. Change out any grommets that came with the new distributor.

Replace the spark plugs if they have not be recently replaced. The “feet” of the distributor serve as the spark-plug wires for this particular engine.

Carefully set the new distributor assembly into the spark-plug holes. Gently but firmly push it down until it clicks into place.

Reattach the wiring harness plug-in on the right. Replace the bolts. Tighten the bolts until you feel resistance. Using a diagonal pattern, tighten each bolt one full turn; then, repeating the diagonal pattern, half a turn. Do not put a lot of torque on these bolts—they may strip.

After making sure everything is plugged in and all tools are off the car, start the engine. The Cavalier should start and run smoothly--if your diagnosis that the distributor was the problem was correct.

 How to Replace the Distributor in a Chevy Camaro

Replacing Distributors in 1993 to 1998 Engines

Look for the distributor at the back of the engine block; you can find it by the spark plug wires leading to it. Unhook the negative cable from the battery. Use a wrench to take off the water pump, as well as the crankshaft balancer. The crankshaft balancer is a round piece on the crankshaft near the bottom of the engine; it looks like a metal tire with a hubcap and a series of holes around the "tire."

Grab the spark plug cables by the boot and turn one-half turn each way before detaching. For your 1993 to 1994 cars, take the cables directly off the distributor. For 1995 to 98 cars, you have to get the wiring harness for the spark plugs off the distributor by putting the car up on a jack, unbolting the power steering pump, loosening the wire harness from its clips, and then taking it off the distributor.

Unbolt the distributor hold-down bolts and tilt the distributor toward you so that the driveshaft detaches from the camshaft's end. As you do this, note and mark the position of the driveshaft so you can align parts properly during re-installation.

Oil the O-ring on the distributor before installing new parts.

Put in your new Camaro distributor so the driveshaft fits down properly into the camshaft's end; you may have to turn the distributor until the camshaft pin goes into the camshaft slot. Get part number 22173E for the 5.7L engine in your 1997 Camaro from Parts Train. If you're ordering a part, know your model, year and engine size to get the correct part, as parts numbers differ among manufacturers.

Replace parts in the reverse order of Steps 1 and 2.

Replacing Distributors in 1985 to 1992 Engines

Find the distributor at the back of the engine block; locate it by the spark plug wires leading to it. Unhook the negative cable from the battery terminal.

Unbolt the air cleaner assembly and take it off, as well as all electrical connections to the distributor. Make sure you label the connectors to avoid confusion on re-installation.

Take off the distributor cover as well as the wire retainer, if your car has one. Use a screwdriver to unscrew the screws and take off the distributor cap.

Make marks with a marker to indicate the rotor's position to the distributor housing, as well as the housing's position to the engine block. Unbolt the distributor hold-down bolt and take off the hold-down clamp.

Lift the distributor partially out, and when the rotor quits turning, mark its position. Then finish lifting out the distributor.

Put your new Camaro distributor in the engine block. Check that the rotor lines up with last mark you made, then slide the distributor in, making sure all other marks line up. You can order part number 22114E for a 1985 Camaro from Parts Train. Give your model, year, and engine size wherever you order, as parts numbers differ.

Replace parts in the reverse order of Steps 1 through 4.

Items you will need

  • Wrench

  • Jack

  • O-ring

  • Distributor

  • Screwdriver

 How to Replace the Distributor in a Chevy Impala

Track the spark plug wires to locate the distributor on top of the engine, and then unhook the battery's negative cable. Label and disconnect all connectors to the distributor cap so you will be able to reconnect them to the correct place.

Remove the vacuum hose, if your model has one, and push down on the distributor cap retainers and take off the cap.

Make a mark to show the position of the distributor housing to the engine block. Likewise, make a mark on the housing to indicate where the rotor points. These marks are crucial to putting new parts in correctly.

Unbolt the distributor mounting bolt with a wrench and take off the clamp. Pull the distributor from the engine block. As you do so, check the rotor mark you made on the distributor housing and make another on the housing, showing the rotor position. Again, this is important for later re-installation.

Take off the old O-ring from the distributor housing and lightly grease a new one before putting it on the distributor housing. The O-ring is a separate purchase from the distributor.

Line up the rotor with the second mark you made earlier. Put in your new Impala distributor, and raise it and turn, if necessary, so the distributor body mark lines up with the first mark in Step 3. You can order a distributor for your 1995 to 96 Impala from Parts Train, number 84171N. Parts numbers differ by store and manufacturer; know your engine size and year.

Replace the bolt in the holding clamp, tightening lightly. Replace the other parts in the reverse order of Steps 1 and 2. Once you're done, use the wrench to snug the bolt down tight.

Items you will need

  • Wrench

  • O-ring

  • Distributor

 How to Replace the Distributor in a Geo Tracker

Locate the distributor on the engine block; just follow the spark plug wires to the top of the distributor cap. Unhook the negative battery cable at the battery.

Trace each spark plug wire to the distributor cap and number each "tower" it plugs into--1 for the No. 1 cylinder, so you can replace the spark plug wires easily. Grip the end of the plug wire to remove; don't bend or twist the wire or you may damage it.

Put a label on and disconnect all wires and vacuum hoses from the distributor. Mark the No. 1 cylinder terminal tower to match it to the distributor housing for re-installation later. Then unscrew the screws on the distributor cap.

Use a long-handled ratchet (breaker bar) to rotate the crankshaft bolt clockwise until the distributor rotor points to the No. 1 cylinder mark on the distributor housing. The crankshaft bolt will be in the center of a pulley near the bottom of the engine block. Matchmark the distributor housing position to the engine for positioning during re-installation.

Unbolt the distributor hold-down bolt with a wrench and remove the distributor by carefully sliding it up and out of the engine. Do not crank the engine (rotate the crankshaft) with the distributor removed.

Insert the new Tracker distributor in the engine, lining up the matchmarks on the distributor housing, engine and rotor. The part number from Parts Train is 84171N, but different manufacturers use different numbers. Give your vehicle model, year and engine size when ordering.

Replace the hold-down bolt and tighten until secure, then install the distributor cap. Reconnect all wiring and vacuum hoses to the distributor and connect the negative battery cable.

Items you will need

  • Wrench

  • Screwdriver

  • Long-handled ratchet

  • Distributor

 How to Replace the Distributor in a Geo Metro

Look for the distributor on the right side of the engine block as you face the engine compartment; it's easy to spot because of all the spark plug wires leading to it. Disconnect the negative cable from the battery.

Tag each spark plug wire, and disconnect them from the distributor, as well as removing the wiring harness with a screwdriver and unhooking the vacuum line at the distributor, if your Metro has one. Use a screwdriver to remove the distributor cap.

Make a mark to show the position of the distributor rotor relative to the distributor body; likewise mark the position of the distributor body to the cylinder head. Also mark the distributor's position pertaining to the housing and engine. You'll use these marks later in re-installation.

Use a wrench to unbolt the hold-down bolt or bolts, depending on your model year, and lift the distributor out of the cylinder head. Avoid moving any engine parts after the distributor has been removed, or re-installation will be more complicated. Remove the O-ring from the distributor shaft.

Put in a new O-ring, oiling it lightly. Before inserting the new Metro distributor, line up all the marks made during removal. Position your Metro distributor carefully and as you install it, make sure the drive gear engage properly within the slot. The part number is 84170N for a distributor from Parts Train, with the O-ring a separate order.

Use a wrench to install the hold-down bolts on the distributor lightly. Reconnect the wiring and the plug wires. Connect vacuum hoses, if so equipped.

Install the distributor cap and screw it on. Connect the battery negative cable. Tighten the distributor hold-down bolt or bolts.

Items you will need

  • Wrench

  • Screwdriver

  • O-ring

  • Distributor

About the Author

This article was written by the It Still Runs team, copy edited and fact checked through a multi-point auditing system, in efforts to ensure our readers only receive the best information. To submit your questions or ideas, or to simply learn more about It Still Runs, contact us.

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